Thursday, November 28, 2013

El Diente to Wilson Peak Traverse

Brian and I took a late August trip down to the San Juan mountains to climb Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente.  As one of the four great traverses in Colorado, I was very much looking forward to the ridge run from El Diente to Wilson Peak.

Approaching Ridge Crest

El Diente ascent to ridge

First good scramble

El Diente Summit

El Diente to Wilson Traverse
These mountains are the furthest fourteeners from Denver, so it took me awhile to get down there.  Two other factors delayed my trip: a stop in Grand Junction to have dinner with my mom and a wrong turn which dumped me in Norwood.  I knew I should have taken that left turn in Placerville.  I have childhood memories of visiting my grandparents in Placerville, so it was nice to return to this area again.

I made it to the trailhead and found Brian's vehicle before midnight.  I hit the bag immediately in the back of the Frontier under the stars.  Brian and I got a good start the next morning on our way to El Diente.  The first part of the trail is a nice but never ending hike through the woods in the basin.  Eventually the waterfall comes into view and the ascent starts in earnest.

This part of the hike through rock rubble is definitely taxing.  Finally we hiked what looked to be past The Tooth which looms like a monarch above.  The hike starts to become a climb as we approached the ridge.  Brian and I took different lines and we used other climbers as our cairns.  With much scrambling ahead of us, I played a bit on the rocks but didn't get too screwy.

Once on the ridge line, the final push to the top of El Diente is quite an interesting scramble.  We made the top and took some great pictures.  There were a couple of military guys on top as well as a guy and gal hiking partners.

Brian wasn't feeling up to the traverse, so he decided to descend back to the valley and meet me at the top of Wilson Peak.  Maybe we broke the buddy rule, but my desire to tackle this traverse was too great.  Even though makes the ridge approach clear, I was reluctant to loose the prescribed amount of elevation and cut to the ridge too early.  This put me on the wrong side of the ridge and I had to scramble-slide down and loose the elevation anyway.  I was a bit nervous because there were no other climbers in sight, but eventually I found a few cairns which made me feel a bit better.  It is mostly the fear that you won't be able to rejoin the route that gets me.

I made my way to the ridge crest and spied other scramblers.  The views are spectacular and the route is epic.  The next section involved a lot of easy but very engaging scrambling.  It takes some time, but there is nothing I would rather be doing.  Then I came to the crux ramp.  This looks quite ominous and I had time to evaluate the approach as other climbers ahead of me were planning theirs.  One of the three in the group decided not to even tackle the pitch and bailed off the ridge.

The climb of the ramp was definitely Class 4 and probably lower Class 5, but I was never nervous due to the nice selection of holds and the solid rock.  I would like to put down more adjectives to describe this awesome section and will do so as more memories come to me.

The final pitch to the top of Wilson Peak turned out to be quite a challenge.  There is one rock that takes an awkward belly-rubbing pull to get over.  It was even tougher coming down.  There is some exposure here to make it even more interesting.  Coming down as a short guy leaves ones feet dangling, searching for any kind of a footing.  In the end I survived and was the last guy off the summit.

I heard Brian shouting from down in the valley and assumed he was headed back home.  I couldn't exactly make out the words, but was still amazed at how voices carry in the mountains.  I was trying to keep up with the others just to make sure I was on the right track.  Part of the way down the descent, I realized that their group was taking a different route than Brian.  I wanted to be sure and hook up with Brian eventually, so I had to make my way back up to the ridge.  This was a bit of an endeavor because I was already spent of energy and more ascent was not easy.

Once back at the ridge, I descended the correct valley.  This was a long and arduous crossing of scree and a sea of boulders.  This took a very very long long time.  I didn't catch up to Brian until past the waterfall and down to tree line.  Brian had waited for me there.  The long long hike out was beautiful but there wasn't much left in our gas tanks.  In the end the entire day was as epic as any other I can remember.  Scrambling one more of the great traverses was the highlight of the summer.  Very much recommended!

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